Defending Evanston Public Library’s Only Black Librarian


Participants brought awareness to the crisis taking place within leadership at Evanston Public Library, questioning motivation behind library leadership’s harassment of Lesley Williams.

Lesley Williams, Head of Adult Services at Evanston Public Library with Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Second Baptist Church of Evanston and President of Evanston/North Shore NAACP (📷: Heidi Levin)

Lesley Williams, Head of Adult Services at Evanston Public Library with Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Second Baptist Church of Evanston and President of Evanston/North Shore NAACP
(
📷Heidi Levin)

On Thursday, April 20, Lesley Williams, Evanston Public Library’s only black librarian, was greeted by a gauntlet of nearly 100 supporters from Evanston and neighboring communities as she arrived for a disciplinary hearing. Supporters lined the hallway, bearing signs reading “We Stand With Lesley,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No More Racism At Evanston Public Library,” cheering “We need Lesley!” as she arrived.

In the private meeting, head of human resources Jennifer Lin and Library Director Karen Danczak-Lyons informed Lesley and her counsel that the terms of her discipline would be announced within five days. Possible outcomes could include a verbal or written warning, or a suspension without pay of indeterminate length.

On the advice of her attorney, Lesley Williams cannot speak to the nature of the charges against her. However, community leaders at today’s rally believe that the potential punitive action from the library’s leadership reflect a broader pattern of discriminatory decision making.

“The Evanston Public Library's most recent disciplinary action against Lesley Williams is in direct proportion to various actions leadership has taken over the years to suppress efforts that promote racial equity,” said Tiffany Rice, President of the Dajae Coleman Foundation. “It's irresponsible of such an institution to not fully invest in programs that support social awareness and change.” In March 2016, Rice published an open letter calling for a change in leadership at the library, pointing to a “pattern of behavior that makes me question [Evanston Public Library Director Karen Danczak-Lyons’s] commitment to Evanston’s African-American community and providing access to information desired by our city’s people of color.”

Speakers continuously praised Lesley’s leadership both within the library and throughout the community, as a fierce advocate for equitable distribution of library resources; representation for the black community and other marginalized communities in the library’s collection, and programming; and free speech and space for programs on controversial issues.

Reverend Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Evanston’s Second Baptist Church and President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, opened the speaking program by making clear the library should be honoring, not punishing, Lesley Williams: “The peaceful assembly earlier today at the Civic Center was a wonderful display of community activism.,” said Rev. Nabors, “Second Baptist Church Evanston and the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, along with many other groups, support Lesley Williams as a tireless advocate for social justice, human rights and civil rights. We stand with her because she is a member of the Evanston family. Justice demands that people of goodwill stand for justice.”

Other speakers included:

  • Evanston resident Lynn Pollack, who spoke to Lesley’s consistent advocacy for marginalized communities and her leadership in promoting engaging programming in the library
  • Stephanie Skora, a trans woman and friend of Lesley, who spoke to Lesley’s inspiring leadership and support of queer and trans communities
  • Dilnaz Waraich, board member at Open Communities and the Muslim Community Center of Morton Grove, who spoke to Lesley’s leadership in organizing to combat Islamophobia including massive rallies in Evanston, Morton Grove and Bridgeview.

Evanston Public Library Director Karen Danczak-Lyons arrived accompanied by a police escort.


This is the latest in a series of punitive actions targeting Williams for her unwavering commitment to challenge the library leadership on issues of racial justice, equitable distribution of resources, representation for black people and other people of color in the library’s collections, provision of library services in predominantly black neighborhoods, and free speech on controversial issues.

Lesley Williams is the only black librarian in Evanston Public Library while Evanston’s population is 20% Black.

For more background info, see the event page >

For more background on the pattern of racial discrimination from the Evanston Public Library’s director specifically, see the open letter drafted in March 2016 by Tiffany Rice, President of the Dajae Coleman Foundation.

EDIT 5/7/17: See also Dear Evanston November 2016 Q&A with Stacey Gibson, Evanston resident and equity expert, who recommends library audit.


📷: Heidi Levin

RESPONSES

4/25/17, Evanston Public Library: Controversy Over Internal Disciplinary Matter
4/25/17, Evanston RoundTable: Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees' Statement
4/25/17, Rev Nabors: EPL’s Response to Community Concerns- A Travesty...
4/27/17, Chicago Area Peace Action: Letter to Mayor Tisdahl & Mayor-Elect Hagerty
5/01/17, OPAL & NAACP: Letter to Michael Tannen, EPL Board President
5/04/17, Lesley Williams: Shehecheyanu